from king’s road to the high street

August 18, 2014 in good reads, photo play by editor

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Photographer Sheila Rock clues us in on the love and marriage of Punk and fashion in the ’70s.

The book PUNK+ (First Third Books) showcases the mid-70s London Punk landscape as seen through the eyes of photographer Sheila Rock. A Chicago-native who moved to the UK in 1970 to study at the London School of Film, Sheila became involved in the city’s underground music community alongside her rock photographer husband, Mick. After introducing him to her editor friends at Rolling Stone, the magazine hooked him up with an interview with David Bowie. The pair got on so swimmingly that in 1972, Sheila and Mick were invited to accompany the glam rock superstar on his ‘Ziggy Stardust’ world tour. While traveling, Sheila was initially exposed to Punk while in NYC, where she hung out at CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City. Upon returning to London, she began carrying her own camera around with her, documenting the burgeoning punk scene as it was happening on that side of the Atlantic.

The never-been-published photos found in PUNK+ were scavenged from Sheila’s garden shed, forgotten and rediscovered in an old box labeled (fittingly) ‘ROUGH’. The book features not only early images of the Clash, Siouxie Sioux, John Lyndon, and the Jam, but also interior shots of some of the era’s most legendary clothing boutiques. Here, Sheila tells us about her own 70s style, how she ended up at The Face, and why such an organic music movement will never happen again.

In PUNK+, there is an entire chapter highlighting the clothing shops, which just really cements the link between fashion and punk. What would you say to people who insist that Punk wasn’t about the clothes, only the music?

Sheila Rock: I would say that in the UK… that was not the case. Fashion and music go hand in hand — a marriage of aesthetics and attitude. Punks had an anarchic and creative posture and this was expressed in lots of visual ways — makeup, clothes, hair styles, etc. Fashion was a vehicle to show off but also to make a statement and to be brave.

How did you dress during this period? Did you have any favourite stores?

I didn’t have much money and in the 70’s, it was fashionable to wear second-hand clothes.
Portobello Market was a great place to find special garments. Also the Kings Road had many shops selling antique clothes. Not only was it an economic imperative but it also enabled you to find wonderful, individual, one-off clothes. I also loved black and the beatnik look of the 1960’s has always been a favourite look. I’m not a person who likes to stand out. Plain and simple and ‘blending in’ was more my thing.

The photographs showcase so many different styles that fall under ‘punk’, presenting a style story that goes beyond the stereotypical safety pins and Mohawks. What were some of the visual influences (like nods to 50’s bikers with the leather jackets and of course, the Jam had a thing for 60’s mod)?

In the beginning I think it was a mix of periods and styles. 1950’s absolutely. YES, leather biker jackets. Also the 1960’s. Mainly it was about customizing what you already had and making it different. Sometimes it was as simple as wearing a white shirt and a thin black tie and black jeans if you were a girl. The androgynous look, unfeminine but cool. Patti Smith comes to mind. She looked wonderful in that great Mapplethorpe portrait of her first album called Horses.

At what point did you know that punk had gone from underground to mainstream?

When the press started to highlight Punk. It was the beginning of ‘Tabloid Punk’. At the end of 1977 and early 1978, shops selling ready-to-wear punk clothes began to emerge. For me it was when the wonderful Acme Attractions turned into BOY on the King’s Road. It was the turning point. BOY wasn’t bad, only commercial. Suddenly a lot of people started to manufacture the look. Punk had gone mainstream.

Today, bands won’t appear on TV without the help of a stylist to get them dressed. Has the DIY fashion aspect of punk gotten lost along the way to 2014?

The music business has changed dramatically. It seems to be all about marketing and selling a look or a sound. Bands now hire stylists these days for sure. I think it is a bit dishonest.

What were the similarities/ differences between NYC and London punk scenes?

Punk came out of a landscape of conservatism and economic hardship in the UK and blandness in America. Punk music was different, aggressive, rebellious, and demanded change. Punk hairstyles and clothes were confrontational and individualistic. In that way they were similar. Anti-establishment was the code. I think the Punk scene was more art-based in New York. Richard Hell and Patti Smith. London was influenced by the 70’s economic depression and the English creative cool style — the Clash.

Do you think those two cities have priced themselves out of anything like that happening again?

Don’t think Punk will ever happen again. Technology has transformed the planet.

How did your work in the punk scene lead to working with The Face?

The photographs in the book were all taken when I was a young girl. I had no experience and didn’t even know much about photography. I inherited a 35mm analogue camera and just started documenting the Punk scene. It all happened by chance. The journey of my career as a photographer was organic. I think I have always been in the right place at the right time. I have always been sensitive to my surroundings and just recorded what I experienced. Hard work and an inquisitive mind have helped me move forward. I was lucky to meet the visionary editor, Nick Logan, in the late 70’s. He hadn’t started The Face then. I wouldn’t be a photographer if he hadn’t given me a chance.

Did you go to see the PUNK exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last year? And if so, what did you think?

Sadly, I did not visit New York then. I’m sorry to say I missed it. Andrew Bolton, the curator, was very kind and sent me the catalogue. I had some of my photos in the Met Punk book, Punk: Chaos to Couture. And I was thrilled that they sold PUNK + in their bookshop during the exhibition.


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All images courtesy Sheila Rock